In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, Caravan Health would like to share a recent conversation about our leadership and company culture with two of our dynamic female leaders.
An exceptional workplace like Caravan Health doesn’t just happen. A positive, supportive workplace is a result of strategic steps that are often taken behind the scenes. And at Caravan, it’s not just a single workplace. With offices located throughout the country including Kansas City, Austin, Berkeley, Reno, and Washington, DC, Caravan also has many remote employees. Creating and maintaining a positive work environment can be more challenging with employees are in every time zone, 24 states, and traveling to even more.
Given the challenging and fast-paced environment of value-based health care, we wanted to learn more about building a strong corporate culture and maintaining a motivated workforce. Recently, we sat down with two Caravan Health executives to learn more. Erin Fulton serves as Caravan Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder. She has been with Caravan from the beginning, when accountable care was in its infancy. Lara Blackert joined Caravan as Vice President of Human Resources in 2019, following a long and successful career in human resource management.
Tell us about the early days at Caravan Health.
Erin: We have come a long way since the hectic early days when we were trying to break into a brand-new market. No one had ever built accountable care organizations with hospitals in dispersed rural communities. Lynn Barr, our Founder and Executive Chair, other early Caravan leaders and I figured out how to do it. Our founders followed their instincts and used their deep knowledge of rural health systems to get the company off the ground.
The company grew fast, we hired 100 people in 180 days and a few years ago, we went from 30 clients to 123 in one day. Our largest challenge was managing the rapid growth. We learned to fail fast and recover quickly.
Our initial focus was on our customers and our culture began to evolve with our strategy to hire people who would fit our culture of taking care of clients. In the midst of all this growth, Caravan’s leaders intentionally took time to define and promote a company culture of innovation, open communication, and flexibility. These principles live on in the company’s daily work. Our thinking was if we take care of our employees, they’ll take care of our growing client base, so our client-centered approach evolved to being employee-centered.
Caravan Health was established in 2013, do you still consider the company to be a start-up?
Erin: Starting the company was tremendously hard work and it involved deploying infrastructure, developing processes, and hiring a sales force, among what seemed like a million other tasks. We are continuing to grow and expand and are now beyond the start-up phase and have entered a more established phase of the business focused on scaling and broadening our offerings.
What does it take to be a Caravan Health leader?
Erin: It takes a different approach to grow an established company than it does to get it off the ground. Caravan Health is continuing to grow fast, so we must combine our approach to be successful and offer an environment where we attract the most talented and motivated people. As more health systems join our ACOs, we add new positions and departments to respond to current and anticipated needs. Due to the work of our early leaders, the foundation and walls of the company are solid. We have a defined vision, mission, processes, and lots of talented staff. We are still building talent and technology.
For organizationally focused professionals like Lara and myself, this is the fun part of corporate growth. Lara brings an astute perspective to her role and her experience will help to ensure we stay on track. When hiring leaders our priorities are flexibility, creativity, and the ability to look critically at your own decisions. In a small and nimble environment, Caravan leaders will always have more to juggle than one person can manage. Successful Caravan Health leaders are invested in the company, rather than interested in one specific job.
Does the culture you’ve created influence the leaders you hire?
Lara: Caravan embodies a culture of accountability and trust is the backbone of that. When trust is part of the equation, we don’t have a lot of limits on what we can achieve. Trust and relationships are made or broken based on accountability. At Caravan, we never want to hear, ‘It can’t be done’, ‘It’s not my job’, or ‘We have always done it this way.’ When we look for leadership potential, we look for people who have that ‘We can’ attitude, so we can provide an environment of positivity – one that encourages ingenuity.
We hire people from outside the organization for leadership roles, but we are also open to a self-directed leadership model. Everyone has more than a full-time job here and for those who want to work toward leadership roles or take on more responsibility, we’ve created an environment for that with lots of support and resources. I look at leadership as a trait, not a title, and we hire people who exhibit leadership traits, regardless of the title behind their name.
Erin: We focus on ACO solutions for our customers at Caravan Health and our employees share that same trait so in some ways, everyone is a leader. Our employees bring solutions to the table rather than lamenting about the problems.
With a growing number of employees located all over the country, how do you instill motivation and maintain the ability to work together?
Lara: We have built great teams at Caravan and we understand that growth isn’t always linear. Sometimes taking side steps are where we learn and develop. We work hard to be open to growth and change regardless of what that looks like because it’s that step outside of the comfort zone that nudges us forward. We are strong communicators and we collaborate – every person in this organization is accessible and willing to help and we are very proud of that.
Erin: We’ve accomplished great things. Our employees and the work we do touches lives and those successes bring us together. We’ve created a successful model for ACOs, and we’ve done so without sacrificing our integrity – in fact, our growth is because of our core values and commitment to integrity. Everyone’s heart is in the right place and it takes a lot of courage and belief in yourself to go across the grain. That’s what we’ve done, and we’ll continue to do it. We believe in our mission - you can feel our passion and commitment to excellence.
Given Caravan’s openness to growth and change, what are your deal-breakers?
Erin: We tend to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do, so if there is a discussion or situation where there is resistance to change or an opinion that it can’t be done – we’ll move away from that. Our culture of accountability is paramount, and it sets the stage for talking about what we can do, not what we can’t.
Lara: This organization is growing and with growth, comes change. We aren’t resistant to growth, so we aren’t resistant to change. One lesson that I bring to Caravan is to learn how to unlearn. We don’t always know what we don’t know and if we allow ourselves to do something a different way and embrace ideas that may be different from our own, we learn, we grow, and that’s how we’ll continue to be successful.
Caravan Health employees know and appreciate that they are working somewhere special and consistently rate the company ‘extremely high’ as a place to work:
There are a lot of opportunities to join the Caravan team. CHECK OUT OUR JOB POSTINGS.